Friday 5: Matt Tifft on the road to recovery from December seizure

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Even on his honeymoon, Matt Tifft exercised as he prepared to race again this season. But about 30 minutes after his workout, Tifft began to feel “weird.”

The only way he can describe it now is that it felt like he stuck his finger into an electrical outlet.

He tried to tell his bride something was wrong, but he couldn’t speak. His tongue rolled back. And then eyes rolled back.

“I could see it,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “I could actually see my other eye. It was the freakiest thing out of a nightmare movie that you could ever imagine.”

As his body convulsed, he couldn’t breathe.

Eleven weeks later, Tifft describes the Dec. 12 seizure — his second last year — in a way he admits he could not have done so a month ago. But understanding what likely led to both seizures and using a cannabidiol (CBD) product help his anxiety, Tifft says he feels much better and looks forward to two weeks before his 24th birthday when he can return to driving a street car. As for racing again? He hopes to do so but knows there’s no guarantee.

Matt Tifft says the use of a CBD product has helped him in the last month. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Tifft, a Cup rookie last year, suffered his first seizure shortly shortly before practice Oct. 26 in the Front Row Motorsports’ hauler at Martinsville Speedway. After the Dec. 12 seizure, there was one common theme: Tifft had been off his keto diet both times. He suffered food poisoning that led to what he said was an “extreme stomach infection” about a week before the seizure at Martinsville.

While off his diet during his honeymoon, the combination of eating foods he hadn’t — and forcing his body to process carbs and sugars it had not in some time — along with his body reacting to his workout “spiked me into the danger zone.”

But it took time for that cause to be found. Tifft, who had brain surgery in July 2016 to remove a slow-growing tumor, worried about what was happening to him and panicked about being in public.

“My battle with this anxiety and panic attacks have gotten a lot better … (with) CBD,” Tifft said of cannabidiol, a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of cannabis. “It has actually been, I would say a life-changing thing for me to go from being terrified of leaving my house (to) being able to go in public when I started taking that. It’s made such a huge difference that I can function socially and go to places and do things.

“I find it interesting still that that’s illegal in our sport because I know so many times after intense races or you go to Dover or Bristol and your body is all twisted up and it feels terrible and you just have to take ibuprofen or Tylenol because that is what is legal. If we could take something like (CBD), I think it’s a much more natural and efficient way of helping our bodies.”

The NASCAR Rule Book addresses CBD products in its Substance Abuse Policy in a section titled: Dietary and CBD Supplements.

Section 19.3.4.a states “Dietary and CBD supplements may contain (either purposefully or through contamination) a prohibited substance under this Policy.”

Section 19.3.4.b states: “Any product sold with a warning advising non-use if the purchaser is subject to a drug testing program should be avoided even though such products may be available without a prescription.”

Sports leagues are split on CBD. The World Anti-Doping Agency announced in 2018 that CBD had been removed from its list of banned substances making this year’s Olympics the first in which athletes can legally use CBD.

MORE: Questions and answers about CBD from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency

The Pain Management Committee of the NFL and NFL Players Association held a fact-finding forum in January with manufacturers of products that use CBD in sports medicine. The NFL’s drug policy includes a ban on THC, a substance found in marijuana and some CBD products. Mike Bass, NBA executive vice president of communications, told NBC Sports Philadelphia that “we have regular discussions with the players’ association about a variety of matters, including … CBD. Those conversations are ongoing.”

Tifft said he began using a CBD product in January and felt better about 20 minutes later.

Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (right) celebrates after Kurt Busch won the 2017 Daytona 500. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I think the thing that initially brought me to it was athletes like Rob Gronkowski, guys who have been advocates of it afterward from their healing and recovery,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “Someone like me, who has dealt with brain issues, it’s known as a neuro protective, so for someone like me, I’ve always been interested from the outside of it and studied the results of it and effects of it.”

Should Tifft get a chance to race again in NASCAR, he knows he could be at a crossroads with CBD.

“If it came down to and I was cleared to race again and that was kind of the choice, I’d have to weigh out, if I go off of this can I feel I feel OK and be fine,” he said. “If that’s the case, I’d be fine with doing that. I think an optimal sense if we can have something that can benefit folks but also be able to come back to racing, that’s the ideal scenario.

“It depends on the time where right now I’m excited to get my normal’s drivers license June 12 because it’s a six-month process (after the last seizure). For me, right now, honestly, driving anything other than iRacing is just far-fetched.”

2. On target for 250

Last March, Kyle Busch collected his 200th career victory among NASCAR’s top three national series — Cup, Xfinity and Trucks — and the idea was posed that he could be on his way to 250 or more career series wins before he retires.

Busch remains on target heading to Auto Club Speedway this weekend with 209 career NASCAR victories, including his Truck win last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch has won 209 career NASCAR races across the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

His success in the Truck series — he’s won his past seven starts — led Kevin Harvick and then Marcus Lemonis to tweet that they would give a total of $100,000 to a Cup driver who could beat Busch in the Truck Series. Busch has four Truck races remaining this season. Both Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson will take that challenge

Since 2015, Busch has averaged 13.4 victories a year in those three series combined. He turns 35 in May, giving him plenty of years to reach 250 career wins, but his efforts will be slowed in the future. Busch has stated that once he hits 100 career Xfinity victories (he has 96) he would stop racing in that series except for if car owner Joe Gibbs requested him to drive in particular races.

What Busch is doing is something that won’t be seen again in NASCAR unless series officials relax the rule that limits veteran Cup drivers to no more than five Truck and five Xfinity races a season.

So just as Richard Petty’s record of 200 Cup wins is viewed as one that will not be broken — because the number of races was cut from more than 60 to 36 — Busch’s ever-increasing total also will be one that will never be touched. The next closest active driver to Busch is Harvick, who has 110 combined wins in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. The active driver after Harvick is Jimmie Johnson with 84 wins (83 in Cup and one in Xfinity).

3. Aggressive driving

Xfinity rookie Harrison Burton had an interesting take on aggressive driving when asked about it earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track” show. This is what he said:

“I think that aggression is becoming more and more acceptable in our sport,” Burton said. “From my perspective last year in the Truck Series, Ross Chastain came in and was the most aggressive guy, right? Everyone was like mad at him for like two weeks. After that, it was like ‘OK, why don’t we all race like that?’ and then it just turned up the wick of the flame and everyone kind of rose to that level and it made the racing a lot tougher, a lot more challenging, a lot more fun and it was good for the overall racing in Truck Series.

“I think that has kind of happened everywhere, not necessarily because of Ross, but the packages and the way things have been changing in the sport. It’s super aggressive now, which is super fun. That’s becoming a little bit more acceptable, but you also have to still use your head and respect the guys that have been there for years and years before you and try to find a balance there.”

4. Where’s the tax benefits?

Eddie Gossage, president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway, raised questions this week during TMS’ media day about the need for a better infrastructure near the track with the development that has taken place.

“Our local, state and federal officials have collected our tax money and spent it somewhere else apparently because they’re not building us roads,” Gossage said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram“We desperately need roads improved yesterday.”

Gossage went on to say:

“It’s just inappropriate for the elected officials and the bureaucrats to have that kind of development without building the proper infrastructure to support it. I call on all of them to get out here today to start building those roads because it doesn’t matter if you’re a business or a resident, there’s too little concrete out here to get where you need to get going.”

5. Testing

William Byron will stay in California longer after Sunday’s race to test the Next Gen car on Monday and Tuesday.

He’ll become the fourth driver to test the car. Austin Dillon drove it at Richmond in October, Joey Logano tested it at Phoenix in December, and Erik Jones drove it at Homestead in January.

NASCAR’s next test after the Auto Club test is scheduled to take place March 16-17 at Atlanta.

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NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.

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LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024

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LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.